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COVID cases in NASD spike to 11; hybrid education continues

During the Oct. 26 Northampton Area School District Board of Education meeting, there were a few key take-aways, including COVID-19 cases are spiking, parents favor the reopening of in-person classes, the hybrid education will continue, the big game is still on, bonds refinancing may save $600,000 and the NASD curriculum director is set to retire.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have spiked in the last week in NASD, bringing the total to 11. NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik sent out four letters recently, alerting parents, guardians, students and staff.

The Oct. 26 letter stated one confirmed case of coronavirus at Northampton Area High School. The individual last attended school Oct. 22.

The Oct. 23 letter stated three confirmed cases of coronavirus, with two cases at Lehigh Elementary School and one case at NAHS. The three individuals are from the same household. The individuals last attended school Oct. 21.

The Oct. 21 letter stated one confirmed case of coronavirus at NAHS. The individual last attended school Oct. 16.

The Oct. 16 letter stated one confirmed case involving an E-learning student at NAHS. The student has not attended school for in-person instruction or participated in after-school activities during the 2020-21 school year.

“Even though the student hasn’t been in school this year, I believe it is important to notify you of all positive cases of COVID-19 in our district,” Kovalchik stated in the Oct. 16 letter.

According to the letters, schools in the district “will remain open at this time.”

The letters stated that “classrooms and spaces used by the individual were cleaned and disinfected according to [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines.”

The six new cases bring the total of confirmed coronavirus cases in NASD to 11, which includes eight at NAHS (including an E-learning student), two at Lehigh Elementary School and one at Northampton Area Middle School.

In an Oct. 23 survey of approximately 4,200, or 79 percent, of parent/guardian respondents of 5,500 district students, 58 percent favor “some form of in-person classes if their child is within 6 feet of another student.”

“That doesn’t mean that we’re returning to full-time in-person instruction because of many factors,” Kovalchik said. “We can’t maintain the 6-feet rules. We haven’t the classrooms and staff. And we don’t have the capabilities to do that.”

Meeting Oct. 23 with Lehigh Valley health experts, Kovalchik said there were 17 confirmed coronavirus cases per 100,000 in Northampton County in August and 72 cases as of Oct. 23.

“Our numbers are increasing,” Kovalchik said, adding there’s concern of even more cases with the return of college and university students for the Thanksgiving Day holiday break.

There’s also the “pandemic letdown.”

“People are letting their guard down,” Kovalchik said.

Because of the spike in COVID-19 cases in NASD, the hybrid education format is to continue in NASD until year’s end.

“The recommendation right now is to continue the status quo and review things after the holidays,” Kovalchik said.

Kovalchik briefed the board on flexible instruction days, whereby Pennsylvania Department of Education allows a school district up to five days off, but counting toward the mandated 180-day school year.

The flex day might be invoked for a two-hour inclement weather delay, rather than bring secondary school students in 10 a.m., only to have to have them dismissed 1:30 p.m. to return home. Students would have long-distance, or online, learning on a flex day.

The 98th annual Thanksgiving Day football game between Northampton Konkrete Kids and Catasauqua Rough Riders is to be held Nov. 26 at Alumni Field in Catasauqua.

“We will be playing our annual Turkey Day game against Catasauqua,” Kovalchik announced at the Oct. 26 board meeting.

No general admission tickets will be sold. NASD football team members, Big “N” Band members and cheerleaders will receive ticket vouchers.

The annual Bury the Hatchet dinner, senior breakfast, pep rally and other activities to celebrate the big game will not be held.

“All those things will not take place,” Kovalchik said.

“That’s as of today,” Kovalchik said about Turkey Day game plans, adding. “If things keep going with COVID cases, that could change.”

Also, the NASD school board voted 9-0 to authorize the issuance of general obligation bonds, Series AA of 2021, in the maximum amount of $24 million for the refunding of general obligation bonds, Series A of 2013, provided a net minimum savings of $400,000 is achieved; the issuance of general obligation bonds, Series A of 2021, in the maximum amount of $12 million for the refunding of the general obligation bonds, Series of 2016, provided a net minimum savings of $200,000 is achieved; and the issuance of general obligation bonds, Series of 2021, in the maximum amount of $11.5 million to fund the last phase in the financing plan of the Lehigh Elementary School project.

The school board also approved the resignation of Lydia Hanner, director of curriculum and instruction, for retirement, effective as of June 30, 2021.

The board of education next meets 6:30 p.m. Nov. 9 in the cafeteria of NAMS, 1617 Laubach Ave., Northampton. The public may attend. Face masks must be worn. Social distancing will be observed.